|Race Tight as Advertising Heats Up|
Oct. 10, 2002 -- Although the headlines in Maryland's 8th District have been dominated by the sniper attacks that killed six people in the area, Republican incumbent Connie Morella and Democratic challenger Christopher Van Hollen continue to raise money, exchange civil -- but pointed -- criticism in political ads and campaign for one of the most competitive seats in the House of Representatives.
Immediately after the attacks, both campaigns cancelled political events out of safety concerns and worries that the events would not attract media attention. While the crisis highlighted gun policy differences in the state's tense gubernatorial battle, both Van Hollen and Morella are very publicly in favor of strong gun control.
Meanwhile on the airwaves, commercials play out the underlying themes in the campaign. Still far behind in the money race, Van Hollen is being touted by an issue ad paid for by the Democratic Party.
The 30-second spot highlights Van Hollen's record in the Maryland Assembly, saying he took on special interests to push for environmental protections, gun control measures and health care reform. Because the ad asks residents to "tell Van Hollen" to keep up the good work and does not specifically talk about voting for him, it qualifies as an "issue ad" not regulated by current laws on contribution limits and disclosure requirements.
That is about to change however, because after this year's elections such ads will be banned for 60 days before a general election. The Morella campaign had challenged Van Hollen not to accept soft-money advertising, but under his current financial constraints, campaign manager Steven Jost said Van Hollen was grateful for the help. "This sends a message that Chris has national party support," Jost told the Washington Post.
Morella campaign manager Tony Caligiuri responded, "I find it ironic that they would spend special interest money to condemn special interest influence."
The Morella campaign has several ads running: one touts her independent voting record and history of fighting for constituents, another highlights her focus on women's issues. However, in a race where the candidates have very similar positions and one of the arguments resonating in the 8th District electorate is that the liberal Republican incumbent is a luxury this primarily Democratic region can't afford, the Morella campaign has produced a negative ad that criticizes Van Hollen for giving tax cuts to the rich and ducking tough budget issues.
At the bank, Morella continues to hold a financial advantage, but a rush of fundraising has swelled Van Hollen's coffers from less than $100,000 after the primaries (he spent more than $1 million) to more than half a million dollars. The money continues to flow in as national figures such as Sen. Hillary Clinton, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt and former Vice President Al Gore participate in Van Hollen events.
The Morella campaign contends that the high-profile fundraising belies Van Hollen's image as a scrappy financial underdog and shows that the Democrat is willing to rely on the favors of special interests, which he may be called upon to return.
"There are a lot of powerful interests that are interested in this seat," Morella campaign manager Tony Caligiuri told the Washington Post.
"He's not in chicken barbecue mode. They're going to be shoveling it in here from all over the country."
Morella, who is also a candidate of interest for politicians in high places, has planned fundraising events that include President Bush at a private home in Potomac and a separate event with the first lady.